Photo by Keiko Hirakawa
If the devil played a harmonica, it might sound like this
Wearing a pinstripe suit with a red silk neck scarf, Kohara Smart is kind of like a Japanese Peewee Herman, except that he could also bet his soul against the devil in a harmonica battle and win. His four-piece blues band, the Smart Soul Connection, plays hard driving blues and R&B in the tradition of Stax Records artists like Booker T and the MGs. Smart fronts with a generous intensity and gives sincere and appreciative addresses to a sizable crowd, spending the entire last song down in the audience talking and playing his mouth organ. The songs are all hard harmonica jams, and if they have any lyrics at all, it’s usually a single lyric, repeated as a sort of punctuation moment in the song. The template for this seems to be classic tunes like “Tequila”, “Soul Finger” or “Green Onions.” So it’s perhaps in this tradition that the Smart Soul Connection has named most of their songs after single lyrics like “International”, “Spies”, “Supermarket” and “Boogie Cracker”.
Other band members are Kimura Hideo (guitar), Toshinari (bass) and Nakazi Mahajime (drums). They may look like a miss-matched golf foursome, but they can rock any juke joint you can find for them to play in. In my section of the crowd, people were raving, telling each other, “These guys are awesome!” I wasn’t about to disagree.